To whom it may concern:
March 8, 2009 7:57 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to see examples of great cover letters, please.

In my experience applying for jobs, grants, and programs, I think most of my cover letters have been kind of lame- a little stiff, overly formal, and basically boring. But when I try to make them sound more "like me", they get gimmicky and annoying.

I'd like to read examples of excellent cover letters. I don't really care what type of job or program they're for. I'm not so much looking for advice like "keep it brief" or "use humour" or "write it on a pizza box!" Rather, I'm seeking actual examples of smart, clear, charming, and attention-grabbing cover letters that would easily land an application in the YES pile.

If you know of something online, please share links- and if you want to share a real letter you wrote or received, perhaps you could remove or alter any identifying details, and post it here. (Obviously I'm not looking to violate anyone's confidentiality.)

posted by pseudostrabismus to Work & Money (20 answers total) 118 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, I guess as another option: if you wanted to post a real cover letter even more anonymously, you could MeMail it to me and I'll post it in this thread under my own handle so it's not traceable to you. Cheers!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:59 PM on March 8, 2009

I am currently job hunting and below is the letter that I am using. All my application packages (cover letter + resume + recommendation + scanned certs etc. ) are sent via email since employers seem to prefer that over snailmail.

On average I seem to be getting 2 interview calls per week with my letter + resume combo.
No gimmicks / special one-liners on the letter are required. IMO, the only important things to state is how competent I am and my past experiences. However, I'm pretty junior and am working in the IT line (programming) in Singapore, so what works for me might not work for you ...

[begin letter]


I would like to apply for the [position] as advertised in [jobs site / reference number].

My citizenship is [blah] but have been holding the Permanent Residency status in Singapore since 2003. I have [my cert] from [my school], and [more cert] from [another school].

For the past [x] years, I have been working in [my field] and [another field] in Singapore with experiences in [skill1], [skill2] and [skill3]. All my works so far have always been in small teams, where I had a lot of hands-on opportunities in designing and developing complex applications.

Attached is my resume for your consideration. I am available immediately and can be contacted through email, or my mobile [mobile number].

Best regards,


[end letter]
posted by joewandy at 8:30 PM on March 8, 2009

I think the main thing that makes a cover-letter really great is that it is well-matched to the specific position being applied for.

Remember that the sales job of the cover letter is to get you an interview, not to get you the job -- wait until the interview to close the big sale. You've got two goals:
(1) Between the cover letter and the resume, you want to make sure you've addressed all the qualifications, etc., listed in the job posting (if they say "minimum two years experience operating a stapler" you say "I have been operating staplers daily since 1993" -- if they say "a passion for improving stapler technology" then you mention how much you like them and what you've done as a result). This is to prevent your application from being thrown in the garbage right off the bat.
(2) Share your "unique factor." What makes you different than the other candidates -- what experience/ideas/knowledge/etc. do you have that makes people in your field say, "this sounds like a person I'd like to talk with"? (Just a few sentences -- don't tell them so much that they don't need to talk to you to hear the rest).
posted by winston at 8:35 PM on March 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

Seconding winston. You'd have to tailor your cover letter for each job you're applying for, so there really isn't any magic bullet here ...
posted by joewandy at 8:40 PM on March 8, 2009

Buy this book. It is one of the most helpful books on the whole process of searching for a job, including exactly what works in cover letters and how to tie the letter into your resume, your interview, and the rest of the process in a way that reinforces you and your strengths.
posted by Pants! at 9:11 PM on March 8, 2009

My college career center gave me a formula that was worked for me for 9 years and 4 job searches.

Paragraph 1: Two or three sentences about who you are, what you do now, and why you're looking to change positions. Just basically what your deal is.

Paragraph 2: Why you're the person for the job. Explain point-by-point how you meet the requirements in the job description. Say exactly what education or experience you have in each item.

Paragraph 3: Why you want to work for this organization, specifically. Go all out here and flatter the resume reader -- say how you know this organization is tops in its field/up and coming in its field/the best fit for your work style, and how honored you'd be to work for them. You are making sure they know you've done your research, you're not blasting your resume willy-nilly at every listing on the web, but carefully evaluating the position. Think about it from their point of view: why should they put forth the effort to interview you if you haven't put in the effort to learn about them?

Sign off politely, and tell them you look forward to learning more about this opportunity.

Have a couple of friends proofread it before you send it out.
posted by jillsy_sloper at 9:54 PM on March 8, 2009 [21 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far.
I do understand the basics of how to write a cover letter. I'm not looking for principles or tips on writing- I'm specifically looking for inspiration from other people's actual letters. I want to be inspired by tone, and turn of phrase, and nuance. Similarly, if this was a post about poetry, you could write a paragraph about how to compose a good stanza; but if I already had an English degree, pointing me towards a few breathtakingly-written poems or song lyrics would be an even better education.
I don't want a formula, I'm seeking qualitative inspiration!

posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:16 PM on March 8, 2009

The book I mentioned includes several copies of successful letters.
posted by Pants! at 10:46 PM on March 8, 2009

I found this cover letter example from the best of craigslist in an old askme a few years ago and it served me well through my past 2 job searches. Obviously, it requires some tailoring for each job you're applying to, but I ended up getting significantly more callbacks using it than anything else.
posted by nerdcore at 11:06 PM on March 8, 2009 [23 favorites]

Nerdcore, that cover letter advice is great.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:38 PM on March 8, 2009

Response by poster: Here's one that I got from a user who prefers to remain anonymous, via MeMail:

I'm in book publishing, and one gets jobs via networking, so this is a letter requesting an informational interview. It was good enough that one of the people I sent it to asked to use it in a book she was writing about getting into the industry. I always got good responses from it.

Dear Mr. Publishing Bigwig,

I’m a graduate of the X College Class of 2006 pursuing a career in New York’s publishing industry. I’m writing because Nameless Editor at Oxford University Press suggested I get in touch with you, and I’d like to talk with you about exploring opportunities in publishing. My interest in publishing is a longstanding one; words and stories and the knowledge they convey have always fascinated me. This fascination has been at the center of all of my pursuits, from my coursework focusing on literature and language to my dedication to theater, producing five plays during my time at X College, and in my first post-college positions as the marketing manager for a small professional theater in the Boston suburbs and assisting an author as she publicizes her first book and prepares to write her second.

This summer, I am the editorial intern at X Publisher, assisting Nameless Editor-in-Chief as a manuscript reader and drafting letters for promotional mailings, among other duties. All the while I’m learning as much as I can about the business from Nameless EIC and the other editors, asking questions, sitting in on meetings, and reading every book about publishing I can get my hands on as I look for a position as an editorial assistant once my internship ends in August.

I’m pursuing a career in publishing for two reasons: it is the business of putting stories, whether they’re fiction or fact, out into the world, and it is a field which takes advantage of the skills I have developed in my broad experience writing and researching, designing information in print and on the web, and producing theater. I am intrigued not only by the editorial side of publishing, but also by production and design. Books have been the currency of my life; I can’t imagine a more interesting career than their creation.

Would you be willing to have a conversation with me, perhaps over lunch, about exploring opportunities in publishing? I’d love to ask you about your own career, and I’d very much appreciate any advice or information you’d be able to give.

Best regards,
Anonymous Mefite

Enclosure: Résumé
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:17 AM on March 9, 2009 [12 favorites]

This is good because it:

States the objective in the opening paragraph "opportunities in publishing", moves on to the relevant experience (in most cases it'd be great to point out how you made your previous employers lots of money here, if applicable), and clearly states how to get in touch with the applicant. Ideally, you can tailor your experience summary to match exactly what you already know the employer is looking for or concisely and convincingly explain why your other experience works just as well.

It could use some improvement, in my opinion.

First, it seems to be mixing networking with applying for the job. For example, it mentions how the two correspondents know each other in the first paragraph and fishes for other contacts in the last paragraph. Networking is great, but this gives the Publishing Bigwig a chance to reject both the offer to network and the job application at the same time. I believe that networking is more effective over the phone, if possible. Then, the letter could state "As we discussed on March 3rd," etc. If no jobs are available, you can then use your polite work to ask about other possible jobs at other places. The next letter could begin "Mr. Bigwig suggested I get in touch with you" instead of your last contact.

Second, it would probably have been better to lead with exactly the position you desired instead of burying it in the middle somewhere.

Finally, if a job asks for salary requirements or history, it's probably best to put a salary range in the cover letter.

Obviously this letter worked pretty well. Some of the networking via letter works just as well if you don't expect a job from this person or you know that the relationship between your referral and your potential employer is a good one.
posted by Pants! at 8:39 PM on March 9, 2009

Response by poster: Here's another anonymous one:

Dear Ms. X:
While searching for research positions in the [city] area recently, I came across the posting for a data manager for the QRS Unit of the University ABC. I think that my experience with data management, my high degree of computer proficiency, and my intense desire to solve problems make me a candidate worth considering for this position.
Although my background is in the social sciences, many of the skills I have developed are centered around the collection, organization, and retrieval of data. In order to better manipulate the sorts of datasets I often encounter in my research (often with tens of thousands of records and hundreds of variables), I have learned how to program in a variety of languages to automate many of the tasks of data management, including database merging and subsetting, variable manipulation, and database maintenance tasks. Some tasks are more resistant to programming than others, so I have also spent many hours meticulously screening data by eye. I have also worked with a wide variety of data types, both in the statistical usage (continuous, categorical, etc.) and the computer science usage (e.g. doubles, strings, Booleans).
I also think that the diversity of my experience – part social scientist, part statistician, part programmer – gives me certain insights that no single role could provide. Because I am familiar with the entire research process – conceptualization to publication – I can communicate easily with people involved at any stage. I am equally aware of the peculiarities of quantification, the challenges of encoding data accurately, and designing that data to be easily accessible for both human and computer analysis.
Finally, I believe that I make an excellent colleague. I am happy to learn any skill to push a project forward, and eager to share what I know with my colleagues. I greatly enjoy genuine (rather than mandated) teamwork – my proudest moments from my two years of graduate school are almost all the product of collaboration. Lastly, I only take jobs to which I am willing to honestly commit – which could hardly be easier in the case of research that has the potential to help so many so profoundly.
I hope that you will consider me for your data manager position. I believe I have the technical skills, the experience, and (above all) the enthusiasm to do the job well. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for further information, clarification, or any other need.

Best regards,
Anonymous Mefite.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:59 PM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Another one by the same user, for a different job:

Dear Ms. X: [Ms. X was actually a Dr. X, which better research would have revealed]

While searching for research positions on College State University’s job site, I came across your posting for an assessment analyst. I believe my graduate education and research experience have provided me with a wide variety of complementary skills that suit this position very well.

Over the course of my two years at Another State University, I learned statistical techniques far above and beyond those required of me. I sought out courses that my program’s most advanced students routinely avoided or dropped; now that my coursework has ended, I continue to learn new techniques. Analysis of human behaviors provides special challenges, because many of the basic techniques of statistics (e.g. standard OLS regression) break down when applied to phenomena like student retention. I have learned many of the techniques that do work for people, and know when and where to look for the best methods to suit a particular research question. Universities produce a quantity and quality of non-reactive data that I find incredibly enticing.

Of course, useful analysis is completely dependent on data that data being of good quality. I have experience creating, managing and troubleshooting large datasets with tens of thousands of records and hundreds of variables. I am also very familiar with the challenges of matching a concept of interest with an appropriate quantitative measure. The same breadth of measures that makes educational assessment research so appealing also poses considerable challenges that I feel well-prepared to face.

Ultimately, research is a product for others, from the exceptionally quantitative-minded (say, budget analysts) to the more qualitative-minded (e.g. parents and the press). My teaching and conference presentations have given me a good deal of experience breaking complex concepts down into digestible pieces. Furthermore, data visualization is something that I take seriously as a subject unto itself – regardless of a person’s quantitative acuity, a good graph is nearly unbeatable for making a point.

Finally, I think I would bring many important yet less formal skills to the position. I have experienced the full range of responsibilities within a research project – from data entry to team leadership – and can both serve in and understand all of these positions. Perhaps most importantly, I believe I make an excellent colleague. I am happy to learn any skill, and eager to share what I know with my colleagues. My proudest moments from my two years of graduate school are almost all the product of collaboration, and I hope to continue that success.

I hope you will consider me for this position. I am genuinely excited by the kind of work it entails, and by the possibility of working for College State. If you need any additional input from me, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am available beginning Monday, October 27.

Best regards,
Anonymous Mefite.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:00 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Again, same user (thanks!), different job:

Dear Sir or Madam: [again, no name. boo.]

While looking for a research position in the [city] area, I came across your notice for social science researchers. I believe that my background makes me an excellent candidate for the position. I have graduate-level training and experience with both quantitative and qualitative research, extensive computer proficiency, and fluency in Spanish. I believe my qualifications most closely fit the Research Associate position, although I am open to any of the positions listed.

I was very excited to discover these research opportunities at [social science research place] because of how closely the Institute’s goals and methods match mine. I am a social scientist precisely because I am fascinated by public policy questions, and think that empirically-founded policies can have a huge impact on people’s lives. Thus, much of my research has focused on improving the economic and subjective well-being of people, and my coursework has centered on public policy, economies, and organizations.

My second passion as a researcher, however, is bringing a wide array of methods to bear on the problem at hand. Because of the challenges facing social science, multi-method robustness is exceptionally important – which is why I was impressed to read the detailed description of SSRP methodology at the Institute’s website. I have tried to equip myself with as many methodological tools as possible, including many of those implemented by SSRP. I have studied and practiced both advanced statistical techniques (beyond simple OLS regression) and rigorous approaches to qualitative research. I also actively seek skills outside of the normal domain of social scientists. I am proficient with geographic information systems (GIS), and I have cultivated a wide array of computer skills, including a thorough familiarity with Microsoft Office and programming ability in a number of languages (including SPSS). Additionally, my research efforts – both for myself and others – have made me intimately familiar with the challenges of and strategies for creating accurate, reliable data.

Finally, I think I would bring many important yet less formal skills to SSRP. I have experienced the full range of responsibilities within a research project – from data entry to team leadership – and can both serve in and understand all of these positions. Graduate coursework has led me to hone my technical writing skills, while explaining what I do to friends and family has taught me to speak plainly. Perhaps most importantly, I believe I make an excellent colleague. I am happy to learn any skill, and eager to share what I know with my colleagues. My proudest moments from my two years of graduate school are almost all the product of collaboration.

I hope that you will consider me for a position at SSRP. I am well-trained, experienced, and above all enthusiastic. If you would like any additional documentation from me, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best regards,
Anonymous Mefite.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:02 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

My best cover letters that got me a job and an apartment were ones I wrote without any regard to format or form letters I had seen elsewhere. I wrote from the heart about my passion for an industry and how much I loved the organization (for the job), and how stable my life is and how perfect of a location a place was (for an apartment).

I'd suggest sitting down and writing 2-3 honest, glowing paragraphs about a job/industry. Then take a couple days off and come back to re-read it to edit it down as much as you can. It's ok to feel slightly embarrassed about the text you've written (it may seem too gushing) if it's honest -- people that make hiring decisions may be moved by it.
posted by mathowie at 10:05 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've had to go through hundreds of resumes and select who to interview, call a few, interview fewer, and hire one.

Start with a brief intro:

My name is John Smith, and I am applying for the Widget Inspector position I saw posted on Craigslist.

Tell them what you can do for them. Sell yourself. Focus on their needs. Do not focus on your needs; don't focus on skills outside of their need. If you're particularly qualified, mention it, but focus on how this will work for them.

Okay: I received employee of the month at my last widget inspecting position.
Better: At my last widget inspecting position, I received employee of the month for increasing the factory's efficiency by 2%.

Write a closing. If you've already sold yourself well, focus more on the resume than the closing, because employers usually only skim the cover letter.
posted by talldean at 3:10 PM on March 10, 2009

Here's one that got me a job relatively recently. What's interesting about it is that I wrote a bog-standard cover letter first, re-read the ad and then wrote a new one, specifically responding to the tone and language of the ad, which was quite direct and challenging:
I read with great interest your job advertisement as posted on the Guardian website, and with even greater interest the more in-depth description on your own site. I have been working in the business field (specifically telecoms and the public sector) for over two and a half years, with my stock-in-trade being making the obtuse, opaque and easily misunderstood aspects of business readily apparent, clear and unambiguous. I've have enjoyed my time at BigConsultingFirm and have had the opportunity to work with all sorts of people at many different levels across a number of clients, but have found the emphasis there on market groups to be limiting, as there are other industries and firms I am interested in working with.

I have also found that I am often taken away from my first love (making business language comprehensible and clear and removing jargon and buzzwords) and placed on roles which I don't enjoy such as process design and training delivery. While these roles have been enjoyable in their own ways and have given me a wide range of applicable skills, this is part and parcel of systems focused consulting work, and something I do not feel fits in with what I actually want to do.

I am very interested in your role as it seems like it would play to my key strengths while allowing me to continue to engage directly with clients. The range and depth of work that you do also greatly appeals to me, as if I could name the one thing that keeps me in consulting work it is the opportunity to do varied and interesting work. To be able to do varied and interesting work that centered on what I feel is my main ability and talent would be fantastic.

I maintain a website in my spare time which, while not being directly related to my work, contains a lot of writing on technology themes. I thought you might find it helpful to review. I also attach a CV for your reference.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards,

Reading it back now, it could be better, but it got me a callback the next day and I'm still in the job, so it did its job. Ultimately, you're just getting the foot in the door for an interview, which is where you impress. The cover letter is pushing them to take that step of interviewing, and as such it needs to answer their questions about you as they relate to the role.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:42 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Here's a MeFi post that's pretty relevant: How to nail a job interview.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:13 AM on April 17, 2009

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